Full-sized campervans for families
Most VW campers can sleep four, thanks to a bed in the pop-top, but larger campervans are often designed for couples. Here, we seek out the family-friendly options…
- British pop-tops with a rear lounge
- European layouts
- Fiat alternatives
- Two lounges
- Bunks and drop-down beds
- Decision made?
The typical Volkswagen T6 camper has a bed made from its rock ‘n’ roll bench seat and another sleeping space in the pop-top roof. What you don’t get in your typical VW, though, is a walk-in washroom. For that you normally need to go up a size – often to a conversion based on the Fiat Ducato.
However, while the Italian panel van is wider and squarer than the Vee-Dub, as well as over a metre longer (when comparing the popular long-wheelbase Ducato with the SWB Transporter T6.1), many of the layouts on the market are aimed at older empty-nesters. British converters often favour rear lounge designs, many of which don’t even have any rear travel seats, while the continental makers tend to go for more versatile fixed bed designs with four seatbelts but still only two berths (or, perhaps, three with a sometimes small, frequently rather unsatisfactory, optional extra bed made from the lounge seats and extra cushions).
Don’t despair, though, if you want something more spacious than a VW and haven’t put your little darlings up for adoption! Bigger campervans that suit family camping are out there and these models, with a proper shower/toilet compartment, could be seen as more desirable than ever in these post-Covid times when it’s obviously appealing to have all your own facilities. Better still, as the Fiat is more keenly priced than the (admittedly more sophisticated) VW, a bigger ’van need not necessarily mean a bigger bill.
There’s more good news, as the rapid expansion of the campervan market has seen manufacturers keen to cover every base – including families. So, while pop-tops on these larger campers were previously seen as a very niche interest, many manufacturers now offer them as a way of making their ’vans family friendly. And this isn’t the only way of getting a full-sized camper for four…
BRITISH POP-TOPS WITH A REAR LOUNGE
Auto-Trail was the first UK manufacturer to adopt the idea of adding a pop-top to a full-sized campervan, where its role is purely to provide extra berths (as standing room is already a given in these taller panel vans, unlike in a VW Transporter or Ford Transit Custom). Its Adventure range was launched in 2019 and comes in two flavours – the six-metre ‘55’ and the extra-long ‘65’. Each has a similar floorplan, featuring a half-dinette with the requisite rear seatbelts, a central kitchen and washroom and a rear lounge. With different graphics and soft furnishings to other Auto-Trail campervans, the Adventure models are high-spec vehicles with a solar panel and Media Pack (including a 21.5in TV, reversing camera and motorhome-specific sat-nav) as standard. The elevating roof ’s bed features comfort springs and there are reading lights and USBs upstairs, too. Prices start at £57,309.
Compass Avantgarde pop-top - image courtesy of Erwin Hymer Group
If that’s beyond your budget, then Elddis (and its sister brand, Compass) introduced its first pop-tops this season. Benefiting from development work by the parent company, Erwin Hymer Group, the Autoquest CV80 has a brand-new roof featuring long fibre injection technology. Up top, there’s a 2.10m by 1.44m double bed on a slatted base and a huge flyscreened section at the front can be opened up for maximum ventilation. Where the Elddis really scores over its pop-top rivals, though, is the addition of a large rooflight directly over the access aperture for the upper bed – when the roof is down, the Autoquest allows a lot more daylight into the front lounge than its rivals.
Like the Auto-Trail, the Elddis has the popular UK layout of a half-dinette up front and a second seating area in the stern. In fact, the layout is adopted wholesale from the existing CV40 model and it comes in just one length – 5.99m. Prices for the Autoquest CV80 start at a highly competitive £47,669 but you will need at add the £1,218 Lux Pack for essentials like cab air-conditioning. Look out, too, for special edition versions of the Elddis at some of the UK’s largest motorhome dealerships.
Of course, it was European manufacturers that first introduced the idea of these taller, larger campervans with a pop-top and, on the other side of the Channel, they prefer their campers with a rear bedroom (which will also come with super-spacious underbed storage). Once seen as a novelty, with Hymer models amongst the first to be sold here, there’s now a huge selection of pop-top models from continental makers.
Today, Hymer offers elevating roofs throughout its campervan range, both in the entry-level Free line-up and the more classical Camper Van models. There are single bed and double bed layouts (downstairs), as well as medium, long and extra-long Fiats – even a pair of twin bed, six-metre models (the Free 602 and Yosemite).
Search for our review of the special edition Hymer Blue Evolution, and many more campervan reviews from years of What Motorhome magazine here:
You can’t consider fixed bed campervans, though, without investigating the original – Adria’s Twin. New for 2021 was the Twin Sports 640 SGX (from £55,900), the first pop-top model in the range, based exclusively on the extra-long (6.36m) Ducato. For 2022, however, Adria is expanding the Twin Sports line-up with a range of four layouts, including a single bed model and a six-metre version. All have the company’s exclusive overcab SunRoof, a heated and insulated waste water tank, framed windows and a choice of exterior colours. The design of the elevating roof allows for a habitation air-conditioning unit or a Midi Heki rooflight to be fitted at the rear, while a best-in-class opening height is also claimed.
Adria Twin Sport - image courtesy of Adria
Going one better, with a choice of three overall lengths in its pop-top campervans (sorry, the company says they aren’t campervans, they’re CUVs – Caravanning Utility Vehicles!), Knaus – and its budget brand, Weinsberg – moved into this sector in 2021. We like the Knaus Pop-Up Roof ’s design, which incorporates a neat tray for your electrical devices in the upstairs bedroom, with USB ports adjacent, as well as reading lights, heater vents and an additional frame at the rear of the pop-top to create a stepless exterior roofline on these campers.
Malibu is another German brand that’s added pop-tops to its line-up this season, including a four-berth version of its new ‘two rooms’ layout, where the washroom wall becomes a division between the en suite bedroom and the rest of the living space. The four-berth models come under the Family-for-4 banner and the new roof has been developed in-house. It is available on all Comfort models in the range (predominantly 6.36m ’vans, but also one 5.99m layout) and can be specified on GT models with the Skyview overcab sunroof.
French brand, Dreamer, was already well-established in offering family-orientated campervans (described later in this feature) when it launched its first rising-roof model, the peculiarly named D43 Up Red Addict (well, it comes in metallic red). Its rear transverse double bed is the European norm but, unusually, it’s built on a medium-wheelbase (5.41m) van and it was the first campervan to combine a pop-top with that other fashionable feature, an overcab sunroof. With the Fun + Pack included, the Red Addict comes with plenty of kit – even a Pioneer radio and a second leisure battery – included in its £47,000 price tag.
Also from France, there are Pilote Vans with a pop-up roof option. With so much choice (Standard or Premium décor, three fridge sizes, 11 options packs, five models, eight exterior colours and more), it’s no surprise to see the firm from Nantes offering this addition on medium, long and extra-long Ducatos, but it might be especially interesting on the V630G with its larger-than-usual L-shaped lounge.
Finally, Bürstner’s new Eliseo campervan range comes with an optional pop-top, while – not to be left out – Hobby is expected to add an entry-level rising-roof camper to its line-up for 2022. And, at the luxury end of the market, Westfalia offers a pop-top option on its Amundsen and Columbus models.
GOT A FIAT PHOBIA?
So far, everything we’ve considered has been Fiat-based, but there are a select few alternatives if you’d prefer a different chassis. Firstly, it’s worth noting that Hymer’s campervan range includes Mercedes-based models and both the Free 600 S (front-wheel drive) and Grand Canyon S (rear or four-wheel drive) can be ordered with a pop-top. Remember, though, that as the Sprinter van is considerably narrower at roof level than the Ducato, its upper bed will not be as commodious. That said, the CrossOver 4x4 model has considerable appeal for adventurous families with the wherewithal to purchase such a vehicle.
Westfalia James Cook on Mercedes Sprinter - image courtesy of Westfalia
Another Mercedes-based option comes from Westfalia. Its James Cook is a unique offering with a rear slide-out section creating a generous bedroom in a sub-six-metre campervan. With prices starting at around £80k (and many options to push that cost considerably higher), this won’t be a mainstream option, but the James Cook can be chosen in HD form (with an extra-high roof incorporating a 1.99m by 1.15m roof bed), or the AD version with a pop-top that includes an even longer roof bed with greater headroom (but without the insulation for winter use).
Another option to consider is Volkswagen’s Grand California. The six-metre 600 model – from £74,711 – comes with the pricey (£2,514) option to add a second bed (1.60m to 1.90m by 1.22m) above the cab and lounge. The big brother to the bestselling T6.1 California, the Grand Cali is based on the great-to-drive Crafter van and comes with the classic transverse rear bed layout, plus a very automotive interior. It’s finished to the standards you’d expect of a product that’s VW from bow to stern and it comes with alloy wheels, sat-nav and the 177PS engine with eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard, as well as a raft of driving assistance features such as adaptive cruise control and crosswind assist.
The Auto-Sleeper Fairford (and its fixed bed sister model) isn’t the only option if you want a campervan with lounges front and rear, each of which can be turned into a double bed. Swift’s Select 184 takes a broadly similar approach but, unlike the Auto-Sleeper, it has a half-dinette front lounge that includes both swivel cab seats. Priced from £52,310, the Swift comes with an overcab sunroof and is based on the extra-long Fiat van.
Swift Select 184 has separate seating areas - image courtesy of Swift Group
Different again is the Devon Sahara (from £57,839), which has two individual rear travel seats behind the cab. Rather than two doubles, this means the Sahara can offer twin beds up front in addition to its rear double. Arguably, then, this is the most flexible model in its class.
While these layouts seem as British as pie ‘n’ mash, there’s also a Gallic contender to consider. Dreamer’s Living Van has a half-dinette up front and U-shaped seating at the rear, but it has two clear advantages over its UK-built rivals – firstly, the Modul’Space wardrobe/washroom design that cleverly creates a separate shower cubicle and, secondly, a superb adult-sized drop-down bed over the front lounge. An inboard fresh water tank, insulated waste tank and second leisure battery are further pluses of the £52,700 Living Van. Of course, with both beds within the van body, this camper is already better suited to winter use than pop-top models with their fabric-sided roofs.
BUNKS AND DROP-DOWN BEDS
In coachbuilt motorhomes, bunk bed layouts are the obvious choice for families but in campervans there are surprisingly few such designs – unless you include fixed bed models where a second double bed is simply added above the first, usually resulting in inadequate headroom for both parents and kids!
From the UK, the obvious bunk bed choice is the WildAx Solaris XL (£54,995), based on the extra-long Citroën Relay. Its front lounge has cab seats that swivel to face two individual rear travel seats, the lounge converting into a transverse double bed at night. There’s a nearside galley and corner washroom, with adult-sized bunk beds running along the offside at the back. These can even be converted into a sofa during the day.
Dreamer Family Van has a drop-down bed - image courtesy of Rapido Group
If you’re looking for something to compare with the WildAx, seek out your nearest Dreamer dealer. Its Family Van is a long-established 5.99m Fiat-based camper, but crucially it uses the taller H3 panel van to give sufficient headroom for a drop-down lengthways double for mum and dad, as well as more space for the transverse bunks at the back. New this year is its Duo’Space washroom with swing-wall to create a better shower cubicle. Uniquely, Dreamer also offers a true five-berth with five seatbelts – the Camper Five. Based on the extra-long Ducato, it has the same easy-to-use drop-down double for parents as the Family Van, but the extra length is used to give the kids their own seating area at the back, adjacent to the bunk beds. Even if you don’t need all five berths, this is one fiendishly clever campervan.
And last, but definitely not least, Dreamer’s drop-down bed can also be found in the Camper Van XL Limited – a 6.36m Fiat with a large L-shaped front lounge, rear transverse double bed and Rapido Group’s ingenious Modul’Space bathroom.
Whichever model or layout you decide is best for you, go mob-handed to view it and imagine what it will be like when the weather forces you all inside. Think carefully, too, about storage (much more generous in fixed bed models, with bunk bed layouts also beating twin lounge designs), and payload (especially if you’ll be carrying bikes, etc).
Try all the beds, too. Then look forward to making great family memories in vehicles that arguably offer a great compromise, with full facilities in a more manageable, more manoeuvrable package than any coachbuilt motorhome.